ASTEN ISAAC is a man about business. The “young musician” – he did not give his age – has worked over the last eight years to build not only himself as a musician and artist, but also the local creative space.
The Arima singer/songwriter, who has graced many stages, including the Soca Monarch finals, is now focused on developing his skill in the administrative aspect of the creative business.
To help him do this, Isaac has started Itzabrand (pronounced "It’s a brand"), a subsidiary of his umbrella company Dollar Notes Ltd, which manages the Asten Isaac brand.
In an interview at Newsday’s Pembroke Street office, Isaac said, “Itzabrand is the branding aspect of those involved in my team. It is basically an opportunity for me to showcase them, that they themselves have value and should be valued as a brand and should value themselves as a brand. We have 32 female models that work with us. Dancers, photographers, videographers...in the team Itzabrand."
The company, he explained, deals with creating content for various clients, both locally and internationally, including writing, production, set development, scriptwriting for ads, and cinematography.
Itzabrand, he added, is the “fundamental ideology behind who Asten Isaac is.”
He uses Itzabrand as the “training and development forum for individuals who probably would have left the school sector and want to become involved in the arts, but don’t have a channel by which to become involved. The Itzabrand platform, he said, teaches creative people “about publications, intellectual property protection and the legal channel of the music. The business associated with it. The branding of themselves, the marketing and other areas associated with the performing arts.”
Forming this company was part of his holistic picture, he said.
“In the broad sense of the creative sector, there are critical areas that require us to have access to trained individuals, continuously. And we have a thing here in TT where they don’t see doing music full-time as a viable option. And I had to begin to train individuals to show them that, yes, the creative sector is a viable option when pursued in the right way.”
Itzabrand is specific to ages 18 to 27, he added.
But Itzabrand is not the only programme through which he seeks to strengthen the local creative market. Another is Entertainment Intercol. It is, Isaac said, the first ever national secondary schools talent competition. He founded the programme three years ago, but it was only developed last year. Now with the full approval of the Ministry of Education, as well as the ministries of community development, culture and the arts and sport coming on board as partners, it will start on January 7.
“We will start our first phase of the programme then and have all talent available,” he said. “We have five categories: vocalists; instrumentalists; novelty acts, which will include dance, etc; groups smaller than ten which are like duets; then we have groups larger than ten such as ensembles, choirs etc."
He says the programme is “about entertainment, directing and channelling that energy that we are seeing in the schools, misplaced. It is about creating that platform to direct that energy where they can have a sense of creative expression.”
Isacc plans to “fiercely compete” with negative elements across TT.
The competition’s first prize is a 24-seater school bus and the programme will offer $1.2 million in prizes to schools.
Isaac’s business background provided a strong platform for his understanding of the business of creativity. He worked in the corporate field for a while, he said, in fields such as auditing, insurance, on-field operations and banking.
But Isaac saw the “volatility occurring within the market space, particularly with the Clico matter.” That prompted him to look at “how can we really begin to diversify our economy.” He said he began looking at developed countries and discovered they had models built around culture and the arts.
He believes TT is “uniquely positioned” to truly make creativity its business because of the influence that “we have from our heritage. That melting pot gives us an ability to form a unique sound and that sound is exemplified by the pan, our creative expression in calypso and also exemplified by our ability to create film and fashion.”
He also believes there has to be a support mechanism that is not just government-focused, which is where businesses and programmes like Itzabrand come in, and sees TT’s culture, intellectual property and creative content as "the new frontier."
As Carnival 2019 fast approaches, Isaac has five offerings for the season including
Love Strung, which he describes as a soca ballad.
He is also sure to be seen in Carnival competitions such as the Soca Monarch, and plans to bring new Carnival entertainment to communities across TT. Once again he will host his 50-bar tour, held initially in 2018, He and five or six prominent acts go around to bars and perform, leaving a 15-minute segment for new acts to express themselves.
“I roll with the big trucks from bar to bar,” he said, explaining that the aim is to bring entertainment to the community. "Not everyone might be able to afford a fete, at the rate fete prices are going.”
Isaac has also developed the TT Creatives Union, started in April with 1,800 members.
Isaac knows creativity requires an investment of “time, energy and resources. And in the creative sector there is a limitation to the access to resources.”
While there have been steps in the right direction with things like MusicTT, those things were limited, he said.
But Isaac hopes to create those limitless spaces for TT's creatives.